Paddling beautiful Lake LabergeSeptember 26, 2016
Whitehorse was a significant midpoint of our trip, while not even close to half way in terms of distance it seemed to cut our trip in two. We were able to unload some of our excess gear and resupply with the food we had stashed. Once past Whitehorse we felt like were on a different trip. The most significant difference is that during our trip on the Southern Lakes up to Whitehorse we had seen no other canoe trippers, after Whitehorse we saw other paddlers every day.
The afternoon we left Whitehorse we departed with a solo canoeist. The man was from Paris and had just hitchhiked from New York to Whitehorse and planned on paddling alone down the Yukon river with one backpack and one barrel. I was envious of his light load, but I hoped he would figure out how to steer the canoe before too long!
It was surprising to see so many people on the water, but we enjoyed the upside which was a nice clean campsite, with an outhouse and a picnic table where we stayed on Egg Island. It was a good change from crouching over to cook and sitting on the ground all the time. The kids enjoyed playing in the sand and after dinner we all enjoyed a rousing game of cards at the picnic table.
Paddling on the next day we enjoyed the ever changing view of sand cliffs, beaches and gravel islands till we reached the mouth of the river and the beginning of Lake Laberge. We stopped to camp on a low sand island at the head of the lake. There was something about this place, the beauty, the calmness, the huge lake stretching out to the north that made me really happy. The kids were really happy too.
We set up the tarp for shade and ended up having the best day yet. The kids dug in the sand and ran around for hours. We wadded out to the sand bar across the lagoon and ran the length and back a few times, crossing huge moose tracks in the sand along the way. The kids swam in the warm water for a long time only coming out to get back to work on their sand castles.
We left our beautiful campsite a little reluctantly the next day, we had another 600 km to paddle including 50 km on Lake Laberge so we felt like we better get going.
Crossing the river mouth from our campsite to the north shore of the lake was rough going. A headwind coming down the lake collided with the current coming out of the river which created some pretty good waves. Melissa loved the rough ride as usual and Charlie fell asleep… as usual. It was hard paddling for awhile with a few big waves coming over the side on our way across.
Once across we pulled into a nice little bay and went up to explore the historic site of Upper Laberge Indian Village, checking out the old cabins and eating our fill of the wild raspberries and strawberries.
On our way down the lake we stopped at several beaches enjoying the beautiful day when some loud thunder cracked off in the distance. We quickly found another nice beach to stop at and set up the tarp just in time to hide from the rain. Suddenly the storm was on top of us and it poured so hard! We were so grateful to have the tarp up and be off the water before that rain or we would have been soaked.
Eventually the storm crossed to the other side of the lake and we started paddling again. It was 4 pm and we had left camp at 9 am, but we had been on land more than we had paddled today. No wonder we didn’t seem to be making any distance!
Shortly after heading out the wind went from a light breeze to a very strong wind very suddenly. We heard it coming, at first we thought it was a motor boat coming down the lake, but once the noise peaked we realized it was the wind! We were paddling across a small bay at the time so we pulled up on the leeward side and called it quits.
After we had unloaded the boat and pulled it up on the beach we suddenly heard a lot of dogs barking loudly! We were out in the middle of the wilderness with two little kids so it was quite scary. It sounded like a pack of sled dogs, but we didn’t know if anyone lived out here. If it was sled dogs, were they tied up and was it safe for us to be there?
We didn’t want to leave since the boat was already unpacked, but we probably couldn’t have left anyways since the wind was still howling and the lake looked really rough out there. We could have retreated back across the bay, but it was only a small bay and while it would have been a lot of work for us, it was really no distance for a dog to walk along the shore so it wouldn’t have made us any safer. Armed with my bear spray and Dwane with his axe, we walked down the beach to investigate. Not far away we found what looked like a quad track going into the woods and some horse poo, which was enough for us to feel better that there were people living here and we weren’t hearing wild or feral dogs.
Back at camp a flat bottom boat approached our beach and a woman was driving down the beach on an ATV. They introduced themselves as Jeninne and her father, Ned Cathers. Ned was having trouble parking their boat out on the front beach so we helped him secure their boat in the little bay till conditions improved out on the lake. The family has lived here full time for 34 years and make their living having guests come and stay with them. They offer guided hikes and canoe trips in the summer and dog sledding in the winter.
Meeting the Cathers became one of the highlights of our trip. They invited us up to their home to meet the dogs and horses and see where they live and run their business. The horses were big and they were very interested in Melissa and Charlie, one kept sticking her nose in Melissa & Charlie’s faces. Pretty funny! The horses are free ranged during the day, which includes walking right up to the house and down to the lake. The dogs were a sight. Each of the 62 dogs was chained up near his or her dog house. They had each worn a deep circle in the dirt from pacing the length of their chain. They started barking as we approached. It was very loud with 62 barking dogs, it would sure be something to get used to, especially having them in your front yard!
We had a great time there, they were full of stories and were such friendly people it was a pleasure to visit them. Jeninne talked about her first paddle down the Yukon River when she was 2 ½. Her memory is of falling asleep in the canoe and how nice it was to wake up and be further down the river. She also remembers her mother giving her balloons tied to strings that she could drag along in the water beside her. The family had also hiked the Chilkoot Trail when her brother was 2 years old. Ned says the toddler walked the whole trail except for the actual climb to the summit. Ned made three trips over the summit, first with his own pack, then with his son on his back and finally to help his dog carry his pack up the steep section.
We spent more time talking to Ned while Jeninne lugged around two huge pails of dog food and fed each dog kibble with a fish meal broth on top. We stayed for almost two hours listening and telling stories. Every time I started to wonder if we’d overstayed our welcome Ned would start into another story. It was such a nice evening but it was getting late so we made our way back to camp, set up our tent and were all in bed by midnight. Sometimes the long days worked out really well.
The paddle the next day was beautiful. The shoreline was mostly rocky hills, some alongside the lake, some set back, and interspersed with beaches of varying sizes. We kept seeing places we would have loved to stop at and start hiking from, but we carried on, talking about the next time we could come back and circumnavigate the lake for a couple weeks or more.
The long days have started to catch up with the kids and they are tired with too little sleep night after night. We paddled as they napped and we watched thunderstorms building in all the four corners of the big sky. We pulled off to camp on a scenic beach with a big expansive view of the lake stretching out in front of us. There was a beautiful sunset at 11:40 pm. The sky and water were bright red and since the kids were still awake, bouncing off the sides of the tent we brought them outside so they could enjoy it for a while.
Reaching the river the following day was exciting and almost sudden even though we had been paddling towards it for the past 3 days. We rounded the last point and we were on the narrow flowing river instead of the huge lake. We are finally on the Yukon River and it is all downhill from here!
To read about the previous leg of our trip click here.
To read about the next leg of our trip click here.